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Mechanisms of bacterial proliferation and survival

Bacteria are unparalleled in their capacity for growth; many bacteria can double their cell volume in as little as 20 minutes, and these extreme growth rates are critical for the success of several pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Vibrio cholerae. While the biosynthetic pathways that assemble the cell are known, very little is understood about how these pathways are coordinated with one another and with cell growth rate itself. We dissect these systems, focusing on understanding how physical factors, including mechanical forces and electrical signals, are integrated into biochemical networks to regulate cell growth.

Bacteria are also incredibly adaptive and inhabit seemingly every ecological niche imaginable. Pathogenic bacteria in particular need to be able to survive in drastically disparate environments (e.g. inside and outside of the human body), and also cope with highly dynamic environments. We investigate the structural and mechanical properties of bacterial cells that allow them to survive acute environmental insults that they encounter in the context of infection, such as osmotic fluctuations, antibiotics, phage attack, and the human immune system.

To address these questions, we combine classical approaches from molecular biology and biochemistry with novel biophysical assays, a variety of microscopy techniques, and mathematical theory. As pathogenic bacteria increasingly become resistant to our front-line antibiotics, which target well-understood biosynthetic pathways, elucidating novel paradigms by which bacteria grow and survive is critical for the identification of new strategies to treat bacterial diseases.